HL Deb 24 October 2000 vol 618 cc224-6

76A.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument vary any of the sums to which this section applies—

  1. (a) where he considers that the variation is expedient in consequence of changes in the value of money, or
  2. (b) in order to give effect to a recommendation of the Electoral Commission.

(2) This section applies to any of the sums for the time being specified in—

  1. (a) section 73(2) above;
  2. (b) section 74(1)(a), (b), (c) or (d) above;
  3. (c) section 75(1ZA) above; or
  4. (d) section 76(2) above.

(3) An order under subsection (1)(19) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."

(2) Section 76A of that Act, as substituted by subsection (1) above, shall be taken to be a pre-commencement enactment for the purposes of the Scotland Act 1998.").

Lord Carter

It may be helpful if I tell the Committee the plans for this evening. It has been agreed through the usual channels that there should not be a dinner break and that there should be every intention to complete the Committee stage of this Bill by 9 p m. to allow us to make some progress on the FoI Bill.

Clause 127 [Meaning of "election expenses"]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 252B: Page 79, line 40, leave out ("expenses which") and insert ("facilities in respect of which expenses").

The noble Lord said: There is little to say about the amendment save that it tidies up the drafting of new Section 90A(3)(c) of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has rather more substance to it. If the noble Lord wishes to speak to his amendment now, I shall attempt to reply to it.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I speak to Amendment No. 253 which is grouped with the government amendment. It seeks to replace £50 with £100. We are discussing here the amount of election expenditure which can be incurred by a candidate or his agent without the need for receipts and invoices and all the regulations which go with that. Prior to the drafting of the Bill, the limit in the Representation of the People Act was £20. The Government have increased that to £50; and that is welcome.

My reason for raising the limit to £100 is that it would bring it into line with the receipts and invoices mentioned in Clause 71(2): that is, in line with the requirements for expenditure incurred on behalf of the party as a whole, not the constituency party, for election purposes. I suggest that it makes for consistency of approach. It might be helpful to the parties, the candidates and others involved to be able to remember the one figure of £100 rather than that £100 counts for national and £50 for constituency election expenses.

Lord Bach

I am grateful to the noble Lord. His amendment would increase the figure to £100. We have shown some flexibility. The figure in the Bill as originally introduced in another place was £20. This was in line with the threshold in the 1983 Act above which election expenses must be vouched for by an invoice and a receipt. The figure was raised to £50 by a government amendment on Report in another place. This brought the figure into line with the de minimis limit in relation to donations to candidates. In raising the figure we were receptive to concerns that the original figure was too low and risked catching benefits in kind in circumstances such as giving a candidate a lift to a meeting where it would occur to no one that notional expenditure was in fact being incurred.

We are not inclined to agree that the figure should be raised any further. The equivalent figure in relation to notional election expenses incurred by political parties is £200. But that is against a spending limit of up to nearly £20 million. The average spending limit for a parliamentary candidate is some £8,000. In this context benefits in kind to the value of £50 or more are sufficiently significant to warrant being declared. During Committee stage in another place the Official Opposition put forward an amendment similar to this one but suggested—I remind the noble Lord of this in the most gentle of spirits—that £50 would be a suitable compromise. I hope that he may agree.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am content with that explanation. My honourable friends in another place did what the Minister suggests. I sought to consider the Bill as a whole. I accept the explanation.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 252C to 252E: Page 80, line 4, at end insert— ("(4A) For the purposes of this Part of this Act—

  1. (a) election expenses are incurred by or on behalf of a candidate at an election if they are incurred—
    1. (i) by the candidate or his election agent, or
    2. (ii) by any person authorised by the candidate or his election agent to incur the expenses; and
  2. (b) any reference to election expenses incurred by or on behalf of a candidate at an election includes expenses which are incurred as mentioned in paragraph (a)(i) or (ii) above before the date when he becomes a candidate at the election but which by virtue of subsection (1) and (2) above fall to be regarded as election expenses.").
Page 80, line 5, after ("reference") insert ("(in whatever terms)"). Page 80, line 24, leave out from beginning to end of line 9 on page 81 and insert—